The past two weeks have taken me from sardine fishing boats in Perth, to far flung watering holes in Darwin, riding camels in Alice Springs, down into the belly of our country to Rainbow Valley for damper at dawn and finally Uluru. This is one of those moments where you hate me for being your new food ramblings writer because all of this travel was in the interests of shooting people around Australia for a cookbook I’m co-editing called The Great Australian Cookbook.
Now that I’ve had an opportunity to sit down and reflect upon how the past few weeks have impacted on me, I feel I should reiterate a sentiment we hear a lot when we talk about travelling Australia. Why is it that we take any opportunity as Australians to travel overseas, and yet know next to nothing about our own backyard? We Aussies are an intrepid lot – we’ll travel to Krabi to learn how to make kick-ass Thai curries, to Italy to carb load on legit Neapolitan pizza and to eat every piece of fried chicken Nashville has to offer…but we (and I’m speaking in broad, generalising tones), know pretty much zilch about what a bush tomato (more accurately a desert raisin) tastes like (for the record, they are so complex in their piquant, caramelised, sweet and sour tones that you really need to eat one yourself to fully appreciate the flavour), or how wattleseed can be used for a multitude of applications, from sweet and savoury foods, to making breads and seriously tasty dukkahs.
I had the fortune of meeting and shooting with Raylene Brown of Alice Springs’ Kungas Can Cook, a catering business that integrates Indigenous ingredients into some bloody delicious food. Her knowledge of her people and their history was astounding. Taking a walk through the Alice Springs Desert Park, she pointed out plants and trees and their various culinary and medical applications and it impressed upon me just how amazing it is that in such an extreme environment (temperatures can range from minus 14 C to 45 C) such an abundance of life-giving plants have found a way to grow for over 40,000 years.
Heading into the desert to Rainbow Valley to meet bacteriologist, bush tomato farmer and owner of 16 peacocks, Max Emery, was even more impressive. He has created an oasis of edible and medicinal desert plants that are indigenous to the area.
My crew and I have witnessed every dawn for two weeks and perhaps this has made us all a bit tired and emotional, but I will leave you with this: see Australia. Really see it. And really taste it. We owe it to ourselves to discover the importance of this place (whether you were born here or not), to appreciate it and understand the fruits of this land. Because if the rest of the world has already figured it out, isn’t it about time we did, too?